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Using Media Cloud to measure the change in media cycles

Senior researcher Ethan Zuckerman puts the Media Cloud tool to the test against the backdrop of unrest, protests, revolutions, disasters — 2011's wave of international news. From Ethan's blog:

2011 has been an exciting year for those of us who usually complain that US audiences don’t encounter enough international news. Since protests in Tunisia succeeded in ousting Ben Ali from power in Tunisia, the news cycle has been dominated with stories of revolution in the Arab world and, tragically, with the destruction caused by earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the drama of possible nuclear disaster as a result. International news very rarely is the dominant story in US media – when the fine folks at Project for Excellence in Journalism noted that the protests in Iran were one of the very few international stories that led a US news cycle, I analyzed a few years of their data and concluded that, aside from coverage of the Olympics, it was virtually the only non-US story in recent years to have led a US news cycle. This year, we’re seeing this trend reversed – interest in the Japan disasters was extremely high in US media, and in protests in Egypt and Libya – perhaps there’s been a shift in public attention, in media coverage, or both.

We (by which I mean the folks actually capable of making it run – Hal Roberts, David Larochelle, Zoe Fraade-Blanar) have been revamping the Media Cloud tool this past year, trying to make it more powerful for media watchers to understand what stories have been receiving mainstream and citizen media attention, and how to characterize that coverage. We’re in a closed beta test of the new tool until May, but will be rolling it out to the general public before all the snow is melted in my native Pittsfield.



The most obvious way Media Cloud helps us understand what’s being covered is via word clouds, visualizations of what terms appear most frequently in news stories or blog posts in a set of media sources. The cloud above is the words that appeared most often in a set of 25 mainstream media sources in a week that ended on March 21st. Our servers subscribe to all the RSS feeds offered on the websites of those 25 MSM sources, and we download the entire text of the stories posted on those sites several times a day. So our word clouds visualize the words most common in the full text of all those stories, minus common words we remove using a stoplist we’ve developed. This is a pretty international word cloud – Japan, Libya, Qaddafi are some of the largest words visible, and prominent terms include Fukushima, a term we’ve probably never seen in a word cloud this broad until the nuclear crisis story broke.

CONTINUED...

Read the rest of this intriguing (cosine similarity!) post on Ethan's blog: How restless a searchlight?

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